Naropa Institute, Boulder, Colorado
How to look at the existence of “self” in an analytical way. What is “I”? Where is it? Meditate on it in a non-analytical way. The paramita of Generosity.
Q & A: Does the practice of compassion confirm the existence of a “self” in others? The refutation and three stages of development of compassion. The difference between the relative and ultimate act of “perception”.
Now we come to Part Two of the book, meditation.
If such a thing as “I” exists indeed,
Then terrors, granted, will torment it.
But since no self or “I” exists at all,
What is there remaining to be frightened? Verse 56 Root Text
The Shravakas open the debate saying that if there was something called “I” which existed independently, you would try to protect it in case some harm might happen. You would feel terror, and the different emotions that come from fear. But if there is nothing you can pin-point and say “This is the ‘I’”, what is there to be afraid of?
This is the main contention of selflessness from the Buddhist view, and unless you come to this conclusion, that there really is nothing which I need to protect, you cannot completely get rid of all the negative emotions, what we call the “mind poisons” – fear, arrogance, jealousy, ignorance and the like. When you have no fear you will have no need to run away, no need to run after – you will be completely free.
This has two approaches. The first is how to look at this in an analytical way through discussion and the examination of other philosophies, other points of view. The second is how to meditate on it in a non-analytical way. Using the analytical approach we try to look at what we call “I” from our own experiential point of view without being unduly influenced by other philosophies or current views. If there is something called “I” then it must be something to do with the “five aggregates” (Skt. skandhas) – our body, our feelings, our perception, our conception and consciousness. It can’t be anything else. So, now we try to look at the five aggregates and see where the “I” is located; just what and where, is this thing called “I?”
The teeth, the hair, the nails are not the “I”,
And “I” is not the bones or blood,
The mucus from the nose, and phlegm, are not the “I”,
And neither is it made of lymph or pus.
The “I” is not the body’s grease or sweat,
The lungs and liver likewise do not constitute it.
Neither are the inner organs “I”
Nor yet the body’s excrement and waste.
The flesh and skin are not the “I”,
And neither are the body’s warmth and breath.
The cavities within the frame are not the “I”,
And “I” is not accounted for within the six perceptions. Verses 57 – 59 Root-text
You have heard of Milarepa? Milarepa’ second most important student was called Rechungpa. Rechungpa was a young goat herd; he saw Milarepa in his cave, became inspired and asked Milarepa to teach him how to meditate. Milarepa gave him some instructions and said “Do this meditation while you look after the goats and sit under that rock”. After about a week, his parents came looking for him. They asked Milarepa if he had seen Rechungpa. “No, not for a week, but you should look behind that rock”. And there he was sitting in meditation. When they spoke to him he had no idea that he had been there so long! So his parents saw he had potential and allowed him to stay with Milarepa.
Milarepa’s first instructions were, “If you really want to meditate deeply, first look at yourself and simply find out, what it is that I call ‘me’”. The dialogue between Rechungpa and Milarepa on finding selflessness is a good teaching. Do read it if you can.
The text now takes a completely ordinary person, not influenced by any philosophies or book-knowledge, the “man-in-the-street” just a simple human being, and says, “Look at yourself, look at what this is that I call ‘me’?” Of course the first attention goes to your body. “Oh this is me!” But is the whole body ‘me’ or just a part? It cannot be the whole of the body, because the body is not one entity; it is made of many parts and is changing all the time. So if it is a part, then which part is it? You look from the top of your hair to the tip of your toe and try to find out where this “me” is. And if do you say it is one part – like the heart or the brain for example – that also has many parts; so which part is it exactly? You look up and down, inside and out then, finally, when you don’t find anything identifiable as “This is the me!” then what is the nature of “ME”?
If it is not the body then where is it? How does this “me” arrive? (These discussions are also in the Commentary.) When you look at this question generally, through the experience of feelings – intellect also of course, but not too much, just enough to examine the theory – it is possible to say that there is something there; you can feel it but you can’t really find it. There is nothing you can pin-point and say “That is me, there!” You can’t find it anywhere, neither is it in the past nor in the future. It is the finding of the “not finding” – that there is nothing to find.
Then you might say, “Then what is it that we think is there?” This experience and feeling of “I” can’t come from anywhere and doesn’t go anywhere either! “ME” seems to be there, that is the crux of the matter, and that is the relative view. Ultimately if you really try to find it, you can’t find anything. And with this awareness, comes the understanding that ultimately there is nothing there which can be smashed or hurt
So why do we say, “This is Me!”? Silence from students. Perhaps it comes from habit? Or from a misunderstanding! This “me” cannot come from the consciousnesses because they are inter-dependent. How do we perceive things? Studies of the Abhidharma tell us that a consciousness, from the Buddhist view, is not just one happening but many. The act of seeing demands that there is something to see and an eye to do the seeing; and as a result of their inter-action, the sense of seeing is generated. The sense of seeing is not activated unless all these things are present therefore a sense of seeing is brief. You might say that you are “seeing” all the time but from the Buddhist approach, “this” sense of seeing (snaps fingers) is not “this” (snaps fingers) sense of seeing. One sense of seeing is replaced moment by moment by another sense of seeing. It is not the same one. But maybe in your mind, as a concept you can have a feeling of continuation because a concept can make one or many, long or short.
According to this approach, when we say “I am seeing” we do not mean, “Because I am, therefore I am seeing” it is because the “seeing” is there. A sense of seeing is generated by these events therefore we assume there is a “see-er”. Because there is a sense of feeling, we assume that there is a feel-er, separate from that. Because we have the senses of smelling and tasting, we assume there must be some-one to do the smelling and tasting – an “experience-er”, separate from smell, the taste. And that “experience-er” is the “I”.
We have imputed something called “I”. It is one thing and it is separate from all the consciousness activities. Then we make it stronger. We say “I am”; and consequently “I” like and “I” don’t like. “This is me”. “This is my body”; “I feel like this” and then “This is my space”, “This is mine.” This leads to the need for boundaries to confirm what is “I” and “mine”, and what is “other”, and “theirs”. It becomes very complicated! What is not me, is other. And what is not “mine” is “theirs”. So what is mine must remain as mine. If somebody tries to take it away I shall fight! And what is mine should be pleasant; and what is no good can be theirs! Thus the whole system of attachments and aversions, of fear, aggression, pride, jealousy – all these things – is triggered.
According to all Buddhist philosophy – this applies to all the schools not only Mahayana – it is the wrong way of seeing. It is like saying that a rope is a snake. (This is the traditional example.) Because it is dark, you do not see the rope clearly and think it is a snake and feel afraid. You are not very clear what is what and in ignorance you make a wrong judgement. You are convinced there is a snake and next evening when you return you are still afraid. Even if someone says, “No! There is no snake here!” you are still afraid. You can look everywhere and not find a snake, but you are still convinced that there was a snake! That feeling of fear does go until you actually see the rope and realise that this is what you thought was a snake. Once a misunderstanding has taken root, it is difficult to get rid of. One needs to look very hard and with an open mind.
When we read, hear teachings and become interested perhaps a thought may come “There is something in this …” but then we don’t want to follow this up because we want to think the “I” is there. No matter what anyone says I know “I” am “here!” When we are so used to clinging to something and are then told there is nothing to cling to we can feel very threatened. The notion of “selflessness” or “egoless-ness” can be quite frightening for the people who are not ready, or who have too much selfishness, or too much ego. But if you can start to question, you may have less fear, because you start to think “What is it that feels fear?” and “What is threatening what?” And if you have even a slight idea that there is really nothing, then your feeling of insecurity will go. You don’t need to hold on to anything; you can be completely open and free.
If you have no need to cling now, you have no need to cling to the past and therefore all your past problems are gone! You can’t say, “Oh, when I was a child I was badly hurt so I have a problem!” Whatever happened has gone and now maybe you can really live in the present moment. “Being in the present moment” may be possible only if you have the understanding that there is no “I” to be hurt.
The philosophies that are recorded here were according to the knowledge and outlook of that time and some of them may not completely correspond to the way we see things now. So we should maybe have a look at them from a modern perspective. We have different ways of thinking and, of course, different people have always had different ways of thinking everywhere. For instance, at that time the “I” was more in the heart and nowadays, “I” is more in the head.
When we meditate, part of the meditation is to analyse, to look. So we look and we try to see everything clearly, and analyse what we see. Then either we become tired and don’t want to look any more or we come to a conclusion that there is really nothing to find, and we let ourselves just be in that state, just let ourselves rest in that consciousness. When we are rested all sorts of thoughts come up again, so we start looking again. When we become distracted our mind goes round and round, then we should relax, let it look inwards and search again. Finally, when we are tired of searching or when we find there is nothing to find, we rest in that.
This is the ultimate of true meditation and these two are one meditation. Now, any questions?
Student: Emptiness is the inherent nature of reality and gives rise to compassion or Bodhicitta which motivates one to tread the Bodhisattva path. But it seems very easy through the act of compassion to re-affirm another’s existence which would re-affirm the idea of self which would lead to suffering.
Ringu Tulku: I think that is a good question. Let us go back to basics. The whole practice, the whole journey, starts with our usual way of seeing, with the “I don’t want” problems. I don’t want suffering; I don’t want unhappiness; I don’t want fear. I want things to be good all the time”. Then you say, “Well, other beings feel the same as me!” You apply your own experience to others because you know that basically everybody feels the same way. That is the first level that compassion comes from – your own understanding – with love – of what is good and bad and what is pleasant and unpleasant.
Then you go a little deeper and try to see why you are having this problem. Why do you feel fear, or suffering and all these things? This is the second level. This is where the view of emptiness, selflessness, comes in. You find that these problems come because, “I am always thinking that this is me! That this is my problem.” And that there is something that always has to be protected. “That I always trying to protect ME from harm!” Not wanting the unpleasant to happen, and wanting the pleasant.
This is the central core of the whole problem. But what is its nature? And then you look at this state of being, how you are; and maybe you come to the third level which is when you realise there is nothing called “self”, nothing called “I” which exists in an independent way. That is a difficult thing to happen but if it happens that you really see the true nature of yourself – you will find egoless-ness. And if you find egoless-ness your original understanding of compassion becomes much more realistic because you know the cause of the fear.
Earlier you used to wish that you had no problems, that everything was good. And because others wish that too, you prayed they might have the same. But now you truly understand that this can happen to everybody. It is something realistic, something not that unattainable. Accepting that you have no self and likewise all sentient beings, does not make you less compassionate. Like you once did, they are suffering because of not understanding. Suppose your room-mate is having a nightmare. You know he is very distressed, but you know nothing is actually happening and that he will not die, or be really hurt. He is just having a bad dream. But you still feel for him and you would wake him up and comfort him.
Life is the same. You see that people are suffering because they have not understood, and you feel compassion for them and your compassion grows. There are different levels of compassion. Maybe at the first level it is possible that you give in order to confirm your own sense of self, but later you will give more because of your understanding. The more you understand this emptiness and the nature of things, the more you can give. And the more you give, the less effort it becomes, and there will be no egotism behind it.
It is also said in the “Bodhicharyavatara” that an aspirant bodhisattva should start by giving small things, and then work gradually upwards. For example, if you can give only a cup of curry with ease – then you should do that and no more. When you are not attached and can give freely with no regrets, no second thoughts and no expectations, then you are really giving. When you get used to this, and see the nature of this action, even if you give your life for the sake of others, to you it will be the same as giving a cup of curry. But it is a breach of the bodhisattva vow to give something you are not prepared to give. So in this way it is “graded”. The highest form of giving is when you no longer cling to the importance of “giver” or “receiver” or “what is given”. When you have that, you have achieved the paramita of generosity and are well on your way to Buddhahood!
Student: My question concerns the receiver. I feel that compassion is not for “I” but for “you”. It is just happening through me – “I”. Maybe I can give you a cup of curry with no attachment to it; but because you have not realised emptiness you are going to say, “Ah! My cup of curry! I love curry!” and that confirms your “existence” your attachment to the self.
Ringu Tulku: You are helping the receiver to confirm his own identity? I don’t think it makes any difference because the receiver will still have an attachment to self whether you give him a cup of curry or not.
“Attachment” does not mean “having” or “not having”. Attachment is attachment. It is not the case that if you “have” you are more attached, and if you don’t you are less attached. That’s completely wrong. If you don’t have something you are often more attached. If you have enough to eat, for instance, you don’t think about food all the time, but if you don’t have enough to eat then you can think of nothing else. So you have more attachment to food when you have none! You could be a millionaire and indifferent to wealth, or a pauper and be obsessed.
You usually give something to somebody because the person needs it. That’s the reason for giving, because if they don’t need it you don’t give it! When you receive it, if you have a complete understanding of emptiness and egoless-ness, you will accept it in a detached manner. But if you do not have this understanding then, even if you don’t receive anything you will still feel attachment and wish he would give you a cup of curry! “Oh, he is eating a really nice curry and he’s not even giving me a taste!” Maybe it is not a nice curry, but you imagine it to be the best curry in the world.
Student: If it is your own personal suffering that puts you on the path which ultimately leads to liberation, then why would a Bodhisattva want to relieve suffering because thereby they remove the impetus to take the path to liberation?
Ringu Tulku: I am definitely not saying that suffering leads to the understanding of our true nature. Suffering does not lead to anything except more suffering!
Student: So to relieve suffering in any sense is good?
Ringu Tulku: Yes. Sometimes Buddhists have very bad – what is the word – I want a word which is really very bad – enormous? No, that’s too small! Horrendous? Yes, horrendous misunderstandings. There was a man with Parkinson’s disease living in a Buddhist centre and he came late one night and fell and hurt himself but nobody went to help him! They said, “If he suffers that will help to get rid of his bad karma!” That is a horrendous misunderstanding! That is not the Buddhist way of thinking.
According to Buddhist thinking it is not the case that when you suffer you finish some bad karma. That is completely wrong! When you suffer you become angrier and more negative, therefore you create more bad karma. But if you have people around who care for you, and support you, you will have fewer negative feelings. So others can and should help. If others can help to lessen the suffering psychologically or physically, they will help to moderate the karma. When you refer to “suffering” in Buddhist terms we mean something that is there not from choice – and the sooner you can get rid of any kind of suffering the better. Suffering does not help.
Student: Rinpoche I want to ask about the sense of seeing in a relative way – with the perceiver and the object and the sense of seeing. Also is that which is seen “ultimately” somewhat visual? Is there a sense that the “mind” sees or how does this kind of perception occur?
Ringu Tulku: You mean things like “seeing the truth” – things like that?
Student: Yes, seeing the emptiness quality.
Ringu Tulku: This is not seeing with the eyes. It is “understanding” or “realising” or recognition.
Student: But it occurs in the perception?
Ringu Tulku: It is more “seeing” with the mind. “Seeing with the mind” does not mean actual “sight” but lifting the confusion, the doubts.
Student: I think that what is coming into my mind is a sense of “flowing”. Your perception moves with a “flowing” quality to what is actually seen. Perceptions don’t go away – but there is a change from a relative perception to an ultimate perception.
Ringu Tulku: When we perceive with a relative mind there is nothing wrong with the perception itself, but the concept that follows is wrong. With the ultimate view the perception is the same but the concept you impute on it is no longer there so you have a different way of seeing. When you see the truth, the concept that follows is not a concept but another kind of perception. The perception does not change but what follows does. That is the difference.
Student: So when they talk about things “disappearing” it is the concept of the thing that disappears. I think I understand.
Ringu Tulku: All right? We will say the dedication now.
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